Food and Beverage Production Scheduling In a Pandemic

Changing consumer tastes and buying habits have always been a disruptive force in the food and beverage industry.

Consumers expect fresh, quality food and beverages in a variety of product types and packaging, and they expect to get these innovative products as fast and as cheaply as possible through multiple channels.

This makes production and scheduling processes critical areas of the supply chain.

In a time of COVID, market disruption has escalated.

While the ongoing COVID crisis has impacted many areas of the U.S. economy, experts see consumer trends during this pandemic centered around food and the food supply chain.

While there were disruptions throughout portions of the pandemic started with panic buying and shortage, recent weeks and months have seen varying compliance with social distancing. These disruptions have led to a significant shift in the types of food purchased, and the preferred consumer channels. According to researchers, it is projected that in Q2 of 2020, $100 billion will shifted back to retail and grocery.

Essentially all of this means people are purchasing more food in the grocery store to prepare at home. According to market data,  “$18.8 billion was spent on consumer-packaged goods (CPGs) in the month of March alone, which was directly attributable to coronavirus buying.”

Best Practices in Food Production and Scheduling

In the face of disruptions caused by the ongoing Pandemic, it is more important than ever to understand best practices in food production and scheduling – staying flexible to meet the impacts of the Pandemic, and other national crisis – while operating as efficiently and profitably as possible.

Food production and scheduling become a core competency for those organizations looking to navigate the uncertainty of COVID.

Adroit brings expertise to help to reduce the challenges to optimized production and scheduling – such as schedule thrashing, change over quantities and durations.  Noted here are 5 considerations to keep in mind for improved food production and scheduling:

1. Optimizing Production Sequences

Production sequences matter in Food and Beverage processing. Common piping, fillers and other activities may be utilized across multiple production orders.  The production schedule needs to consider product attributes so that like products are scheduled together. As buying patterns change and fluctuate,  customers have much more rigid attribute requirements and production processes utilizing those raw materials may need to be scheduled together.

2. Tracking Shelf Life and Aging Management

Product age is different than product expiration. Expiration dates can be impacted by several factors including storage temperature.  For example, for some product expirations may be extended by freezing the product. In some cases, the freezing process may add days of shelf life remaining at room temperature.

In addition to standard inventory rotation schemes like First in First out (FIFO), processors should leverage technology such as food and beverage ERP to support shipping based on the anticipated expiration date, being able to select ranges of expiration dates for specific customers, and being able to identify inventory that is sufficiently aged. Aging processes should be enabled by segmenting the lots and controlling their use until they’ve sufficiently aged.

3. Ensuring Quality Control

Production speed should not compromise delivery to mandated quality controls. Raw material variability is typically greater within food and beverage processes than we typically see within discrete manufacturers. Production startup may cast off greater amounts of scrap and waste, and rework may be inherent in the recipe. As such quality checks should be built into the full process.  To reduce quality issues tied to production startup losses, manufacturing processes, and scrap and rework activities, manufacturers need real-time visibility into product quality and equipment performance trends.

By collecting real-time data from plant operators and production equipment, real-time performance management can measure rates, yields, utilization, overall equipment effectiveness and per-unit cost data.  Using this real-time information, process set points, individual machine rates, etc can be adjusted. In our  Quality, Regulatory, and Safety solutions we discuss this in more detail.

4. Enabling Bi-directional Lot Traceability

In a time of an ongoing Pandemic, food traceability becomes more critical throughout the entire supply chain. Food traceability is now a given requirement among processors. The question we help our clients wrestle with is to what level of granularity to track traceability and how to design a reliable lot control process that enables backwards and forwards traceability.

Lot control is a standard ERP feature that enables the assignment of lot numbers to raw material and finished product, validating a lot number during receiving or order selection, and generating a variety of queries upon lot related parameters.  In food and beverage processing, lot numbers are assigned to raw materials, finished products, co-products, by-products, and at times rework.  Lot inheritance is a critical ERP function that enables to tracking and tracing lineage of all raw materials and finished products, including their characteristics and lot numbers.

5. Tracking Views of Multiple Units of Measure and Catch Weights

Traditional ERP systems typically declare an “inventory unit of measure” for a given SKU. There are standard UOM conversions to allow alternate views but only as standard conversions. In food and beverage production,  this is not adequate because raw and finished items may have the same formulation stocked in a variety of packaging sizes.  It is often imperative to know the total amount of formulation on hand sorted by the various packaging options.  Production planning needs to be able to account for the formulation quantities on hand,  but sales needs to account for the number of cases or packs.  The whole thing can be confusing or impossible without the correct processes and ERP system.

We frequently see raw material shipments where the amount of raw material in one container varies to the next by several percentage points. The purchase order was placed in pounds, gallons, or other units –  but the inventory control system needs to be able to direct the pick and put of specific serialized containers and account for the total amount on/in that individual container.  Catch weight functionality accommodates this challenge.  Individual containers are serialized and tied to the receiving or production lot.

Key Considerations in Production and Scheduling during a Crisis

Ultimately, customer demand and preference during this time of COVID impacts the entire farm-to-fork supply chain, including retailers and e-commerce channels.

As researchers note, COVID has brought to light that consumers do not care about the infrastructure behind the food supply chain. As researchers note, consumers just want to know they can get the item they want, in the venue they want, when they want it, for a competitive price.”

An optimized food production scheduling process will go a long way to meet these demands.